Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

June 24, 2011

NYPL's Gray Studios cabinet of Charlie Ferguson.


-When the New York Public Library published its original inventory of the famous A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection in 1922, it accounted for forty-five cabinet cards of Harry Wright’s Philadelphia Nationals shot by Boston photographer, Gray Studio. Today, only forty-three remain in the collection with two examples believed to be missing as a result of a 1970s heist from the library. The Gray Studio cabinets are considered proofs for the famous N173 Old Judge cabinet cards issued by the Goodwin and Co. tobacco firm between 1888 and 1889. There are very few Gray Studio cabinets in private hands and virtually none of Wright’s Phillies.

Last month, after already helping recover a photo stolen from the Boston Public Library, Iowa collector David Maus noticed a Gray Studio cabinet card of Philadelphia’s Charlie Ferguson being sold on eBay and reported it to  The card offered on eBay had no visible library ownership stamp but did have visible paper loss on the reverse. It also had the identical numerals “1662″ written in pencil on the reverse, matching the NYPL’s other copy featuring the same pose of Ferguson. The Spalding Collection includes duplicates of many cabinet cards that are part of the Harry Wright archive.  Over one hundred photographs are currently missing from the collection and items since recovered by the FBI show that the thieves and/or collectors have bleached out, erased or defaced the identifying library ownership marks.

-A source familiar with the NYPL investigation indicated that after the library was notified of the sale the FBI became involved with the eBay seller who had already received a winning bid of close to $1,000.

-Henry Witham, eBay seller “hankdog1938,” however, says that neither the FBI nor officials from the NYPL ever contacted him in regard to the sale of the cabinet card. Witham says he shipped the card to the winning bidder.  When asked where he acquired the card, Witham, from Danvers, MA, said, “I got it from a friend who is a military collector, he said the card was found in a drawer where it had been for many years.” 

-What are the odds this card isn’t from the NYPL collection?  What’s the real story here?

-Jay Miller, Old Judge expert and co-author of The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin and Company 1886-1890, told us:  “ The Gray Studio of Boston, MA, shot images for Goodwin & Co.’s 1887  Old Judge cards. They photographed at least five, and possibly as many as seven, of the eight National League teams (New York players were photographed by Carroll Studio). The vast majority of known Gray Studio 1887 National League player cabinets reside in the collection of the New York Public Library. Outside of this group, very few are known in private collections.”

-In Lelands’ current auction another item suspected to have been stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection is being offered for sale.  It’s a c.1870s envelope addressed to Harry Wright and featuring handwritten notes of the Hall-of-Famer on its reverse.

In the 1970s, three large volumes of Harry Wright’s correspondence were stolen from the NYPL and it is estimated that those volumes contained between 1,000 to 1,500 documents including incoming  letters to Wright, outgoing drafts of letters written by Wright, post cards, telegrams, financial documents, contracts, stockholder information, invitations, expense reports and other assorted ephemera.

Leland's is offering this suspect envelope addressed to Harry Wright in their current auction. contacted Lelands CEO Josh Evans last month when the item first appeared online.  Lelands says the envelope was, ”recently discovered at a philatelic show,” but had no additional information about the document’s provenance.

-Josh Evans told us, “In regards to the Harry Wright envelope,  I spoke with the FBI at length.  There is a quandary here.  First, no one is asking for it back.  Second, unlike other situations, there is nothing to prove if this is from a library, let alone Granny’s attic.  You can’t say everything that Harry Wright ever owned or wrote on has to be in the library or stolen.  There is always a possibility it was lifted 30+ years ago, but no proof.  I have agreed to keep the FBI fully informed and we will see how the situation progresses over time.” 

 -Harry Wright’s outgoing letter-press correspondence volumes at the NYPL indicate that the Lelands envelope once housed a response from the Active Base Ball Club to a letter written by Wright in the early 1870s (That letter was likely once part of Wright Correspondence Vol. 1).   With so many documents verified as missing from the NYPL’s collection of Wright correspondence, the Leland’s envelope offering is highly suspicious.  In fact, the writing on the reverse of the envelope in Wright’s own hand documents expenses for his club on a trip to Providence and it has already been proven that other documents tallying expenses were part of Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1 in the NYPL collection.

The reverse of the envelope offered by Lelands features handwritten accounting notes in Harry Wright's hand.

A similar document from 1866 listing Wright’s expenses for a trip to Cincinnati was stolen along with the entire Volume 1 and offered for sale in the baseball collectibles market in the 1990s.  The document was further identified definitively as NYPL property when the very same document was footnoted in works by Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills in the 1950s and 1960s.  The original Seymour research notes housed at Cornell University show that this document was pasted precisely to “page two” of Wright Correspondence Volume 1. 

Examining Harry Wright’s Scrapbook Volume 2, which is still housed at the NYPL, it is clear that it was not Wright’s normal practice to retain envelopes along with correspondence sent to him between 1878 to 1884.  It is possible this envelope may have been retained by Wright because of the financial information written on the reverse.  The Spalding Collection also features Harry Wright’s “Note and Account Books” spanning the years 1860 to 1892.  The NYPL had eighteen volumes when they conducted their inventory in 1922.  Currently three volumes are missing from the collection.  It is also possible that the Lelands envelope could have originated from one of Wright’s accounting books. 

Considering the volume of missing items from the Wright archive, when a Wright-related item is offered for sale and the seller can’t provide sufficient information regarding the items provenance, there will always be doubt as to whether the item is legitimate or stolen from the NYPL.

-Lelands’ Wright envelope being offered as lot 235 in their current auction has only received one bid for $300. 

This original research note housed at Cornell Univ. documents that an 1866 expense document (similar to the one offered at Lelands) was once part of NYPL's Wright Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1 on "page 2."

 -The 1866 Wright expense document is still missing from the NYPL collection and if anyone knows its whereabouts, they should contact the NY office of the FBI at:

-Although it appears the FBI hasn’t pursued  Lelands’ Harry Wright envelope, Dorothy Seymour Mills told us this week:  “The FBI is still working on retrieving items stolen from the scrapbooks in the New York Public Library. I learned this last week, when my contact there phoned me again to give me an update on his work. He believes he will soon be able to restore many stolen items to the Library.”

-The upcoming July 4th weekend will mark the 2-year anniversary of the commencement of the FBI investigation into the thefts of the Harry Wright scrapbooks from the NYPL. 

-Pam Guzzi, the great-great-granddaughter of Harry Wright, told The New York Times, two years ago, that she’d be monitoring the FBI investigation closely.  Today she told us, “While it does appear recently that progress is being made in the retrieval of some missing and fraudulent historic baseball memorabilia, and while I am encouraged to hear that the FBI believes they, “will soon be able to restore many stolen items to the Library,” I find it frustrating and absolutely incredible to say the least, that additional “suspect” items continue to find their way to the auction floors!”

-James Cummins Booksellers of New York City is currently offering yet another item believed to have been stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection; a Constitution and Playing Rules of the Eastern League from 1886.  The bookseller is asking $1,000 for the scarce booklet.

This 1886 Constitution and Rules for the Eastern League was once part of the NYPL's A.G. Spalding Collection. It's currently being offered for sale by James Cummins Booksellers in NYC.

The pamphlet still features the original NYPL call numbers, “MVFB p.v. 58, no. 6″ written on its cover page along with an library stamp which reads “34197A.”  The entry for the pamphlet in the 1922 NYPL official Spalding Collection inventory matches the call numbers on the item for sale by James Cummins Booksellers.

We called the NYC bookseller and an employee, who refused to give his name, told us that to the best of his knowledge no one from the NYPL or FBI has inquired about the sale of the pamphlet.  When asked if they were concerned that they may be selling an item stolen from the NYPL, the same employee stated, “You have no right to even ask about this item.”

The 1886 Eastern League pamphlet was documented in the original 1922 NYPL Spalding Collection inventory (above).

  -In the 1980s some duplicate pamphlets from the Spalding Collection were deaccessioned and sold to book dealers after they were microfilmed.  (Many of the duplicates were of Spalding’s Annual Baseball Guides.)  The 1886 Eastern League constitution was not a duplicate (as indicated on the original 1922 NYPL inventory) and is currently missing from the Spalding Collection.

This 1865 Constitution and By-Laws of the Excelsior BBC is currently missing from the NYPL collection.

Sources indicate that several other rare and valuable Constitutions and By-Laws of baseball’s earliest and most prominent teams have been stolen from the library.  One example is the 1865 Constitution and By-Laws  of the Excelsior Base Ball Club of Brooklyn.  The pamphlet was reproduced in Irving Leitner’s 1972 book, Baseball: Diamond in the Rough, but is currently missing from the Spalding Collection.  Its value is estimated between $25,000 to $50,000.

(If anyone has additional information related to the above referenced items, or other items suspected to have originated from the NYPL collections, please drop us a line at:

By Peter J. Nash

June 16, 2011

Penny Marshall as "Myrna" in the Odd Couple.


Penny Marshall’s alleged 1999 purchase of Lou Gehrig’s “Last Glove” for a record price of $387,500 has been reported in articles published by the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times and even showed up in a 2003 book called Glove Affairs. But only one account published in 2006 came from a reporter who actually interviewed the director of A League of Their Own fame and best known for her sitcom roles as Myrna in the Odd Couple and Laverne in Laverne and Shirley.

New York Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe interviewed Marshall in 2006 for an article he wrote called, A Penny and Thoughts…On Sports.  In the article Marshall spoke about some of the favorite items in her collection including two others that originated from the Barry Halper Collection; a checker board allegedly owned and autographed by Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson and an Andy Warhol serigraph of Pete Rose signed by the artist and Rose.  Both items were part of the 1999 Sotheby’s auction of the late New York Yankee minority owner’s collection.

In the article O’Keeffe also reported that Marshall, a die-hard Yankee fan, also made memorabilia history when she won another Halper item related to Lou Gehrig.  O’Keeffe wrote, “She (Marshall) purchased a Lou Gehrig glove at a 1999 auction for $387,500, still one of the highest prices ever paid for sports memorabilia.”

Earlier this month, uniform and equipment expert Dave Grob issued a report on the MEARS website challenging the authenticity of that same alleged ”last glove” used by Gehrig and presented compelling evidence illustrating that the genuine Gehrig glove was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame by Gehrig’s mother as part of her last will and testament.

Sources indicate that the New York Post recently contacted Penny Marshall in California to confirm that she purchased the glove and that, through her assistant, the director “denied 100%” that she had ever purchased or owned it. also interviewed Penny Marshall who expressed surprise that she had been tied to the record purchase.  “I never bought it, if someone wants to give it to me I’d take it, but I wouldn’t pay $400,000 for a glove. Billy Crystal bought that Mickey Mantle glove for $200,000 in that auction,” said Marshall.  She also confirmed that her purchases in the 1999 Halper sale at Sotheby’s included the Christy Mathewson checkerboard and some ”sheet music.”  When informed that the glove sold at Sotheby’s had serious authenticity issues and that the genuine Gehrig ”last glove” resides at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Marshall added, “The Hall of Fame came to my house to see my collection, I’m going to leave them some of my stuff when I’m gone.”  Marshall did not recall ever hearing about her inclusion in the book Glove Affairs and said she didn’t know how the stories of her alleged purchase originated.

Michael O'Keeffe

Marshall’s denial stands in direct conflict with the reporting of the Daily News’  Michael O’Keeffe who interviewed her for his 2006 article and stated  that she purchased the alleged Gehrig glove.  Marshall told she was not familiar with O’Keeffe’s article.   

Another Daily News reporter, Bill Madden, was the first in the press to report the discovery of Babe Dahlgren’s alleged “Last Glove” of Lou Gehrig in his memorabilia column of June 16, 1979, for The Sporting News.  In that column entitled, “Dahlgren Still Carrying Lou Gehrig’s Glove” Madden described how Dahlgren originally sent a letter to UPI sports editor Milton Richman and revealed to him how he had in his possession gloves once used by Gehrig and Yankee Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri

Madden quoted from Dahlgren’s letter, which was written after the ex-Yankee listened to a talk show about baseball card values and said, “I must be sitting on a small fortune having the gloves of both Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri.”

Madden expanded upon what the gloves might be worth writing, “I have always maintained an item is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.”  Stating that a T-206 Honus Wagner card was fetching “over $4,000″ in 1979, Madden added, “What do you think a one-of-a-kind item like the last glove Lou Gehrig ever wore must be worth?”

So, Madden called Dahlgren at his home in Bradbury, California, to discuss the Gehrig glove and got the story straight from the man who replaced Gehrig at first base in 1939.

Bill Madden's 1979 TSN column first revealed Babe Dahlgren's possession of the alleged Lou Gehrig glove and his claim that he acquired it from Pete Sheehy in 1940.

In his column, “Collecting Memories,” Madden directly quoted Dahlgren as saying: “It wasn’t until 1940, a year after Lou played his last game that I got his glove.  We had just come north from spring training and Lou, who didn’t go to Florida, in ‘40, was waiting for us in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium.  He was cleaning out his locker and he took his glove and threw it over to Pete Sheehy, the clubhouse man.  I remember him saying, “I won’t be needing this anymore, Pete.”  (It should be noted that Dahlgren was not directly quoted by Madden as saying his glove was specifically Gehrig’s “last.”)

Listening to Dahlgren’s story Madden was struck by the fact that the man who replaced Gehrig had “preserved all his memories of his career with such vivid detail.”  Madden did a follow-up article in January of 1980 reporting that Barry Halper had acquired the glove in a deal with Dahlgren. 

Dahlgren’s ”glove tale” from Madden’s TSN column lived on a decade later in 1990 when writers Steve Wulf and Jim Kaplan wrote a Sports Illustrated article called Glove Story:  Freud Might Have Said, A Baseball Glove Is Nothing But A Baseball Glove. Just Try Telling That To Major League Players.  The SI article included Madden’s original quote from Dahlgren in 1979: “It wasn’t until 1940, a year after Lou played his last game, that I got his glove.”  

But by the time Halper decided to unload his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999 the Dahlgren “glove story” had made an amazing transformation.  The Sotheby’s catalogue description stated that Dahlgren said he and Pete Sheehy acquired the glove on the exact same day that Gehrig stepped off the field for good in 1939, not a year later in 1940.  Sotheby’s also claimed that Dahlgren said that Gehrig had “used the glove in many Championship and World Series games.”  Sotheby’s also falsely claimed that the glove was “accompanied by a wire photo of Gehrig wearing it on the field.”  That photo did not show the glove that was being sold.

Having dubbed the glove, “One of the greatest highlights in the Barry Halper Collection, and one of the most significant Lou Gehrig pieces in existence,” Sotheby’s secured a hammer price of $350,000 plus a buyers premium of $37,500.  The next morning the New York Daily News reported that the price Halper got for the glove was the “most ever paid for a glove” and also, “the most expensive item sold in the entire auction.”

Meanwhile, at the same time, a display case at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, featured another Spalding first-baseman’s mitt also identified as Gehrig’s “last” from 1939.  Expert Dave Grob revealed in his report that the glove was donated by Gehrig’s mother specifically as his “last glove” as part of her last will and testament in 1956.  Grob’s report also included Gehrig’s first hand account of still having his “last glove” displayed in his home as reported by John Kiernan in The New York Times on March 16, 1941.

Lou Gehrig's "last glove" from April 30, 1939, on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. (Milo Stewart/Baseball Hall of Fame)

So, how could Sotheby’s have offered Halper’s glove without disclosing the conflicting information on Dahlgren’s story and the fact that there was another glove alleged to be Gehrig’s last on display at the game’s national shrine?  No doubt, the bidders battling for the chunk of leather were not aware of the questionable authenticity of the glove.  Without disclosing the facts, Sotheby’s sold the glove to “an anonymous telephone bidder” as reported in the Daily News by Bill Hutchinson in an article headlined, “Gehrig Mitt Shags 350G.”

One prominent collector who was a successful bidder at the 1999 Halper sale told, “It’s hard to believe Halper and Lifson didn’t know about the other “last glove” that was in Cooperstown. How could they not have disclosed all of the information? And how come the Hall of Fame didn’t say anything either?”

The Sotheby’s catalogue acknowledgements for the Halper auction even recognized the Baseball Hall of Fame Library for their “assisting in our research as it proved to be invaluable.”

The revelations about the Gehrig glove made by expert Dave Grob are just the latest in a long line of exposed bogus, stolen and misrepresented artifacts sold by the collector and Yankee partner who died in 2005.  When Halper sold an alleged 1919 White Sox jersey of  “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame in 1998, he claimed he purchased it from Jackson’s widow in the 1950’s.  But testing done by the Hall of Fame proved that the jersey was a forgery made with materials manufactured after the 1940s.  Other documented fakes in Halper’s collection included Babe Ruth’s Red Sox rookie jersey; Ty Cobb’s diary from 1946; Shoeless Joe Jackson’s pocket watch, glove and “Black Betsy” bat; Reggie Jackson’s 1967 A’s rookie jersey; Eddie Cicotte’s 1912 Red Sox jersey; John McGraw’s 1905 NY Giants jersey; Cy Young’s Red Sox jersey; Jimmy Collins’ Red Sox jersey; Lou Gehrig’s Coumbia jersey; Mickey Mantle’s c.1960 glove; Iron Man McGinnity’s 1905 NY Giant jersey; Buck Ewing’s 1880’s NY Giant jersey; a 500 Home Run Club signed sheet with a fake Babe Ruth autograph; a Ty Cobb jersey; the shotgun used to kill Ty Cobb’s father; Mickey Mantle’s 1951 rookie  jersey (#6) and scores more.  Many of these fakes were part of Halper’s $8 million sale to Major League Baseball in 1998, but most were included in the 1999 Sotheby’s auction.

The mystery of who purchased the bogus “last glove” of Lou Gehrig has had many hobby executives and collectors scratching their heads. Outside of the coverage that Penny Marshall purchased it, no one has been able to say definitively who purchased the glove for the record price.  Rumors that President George H. W. Bush“coveted the glove” and may have purchased it were dismissed by Jim Appleby, an Aide to President Bush.  Other rumors that the purchase was made by either Cal Ripken Jr. or a wealthy Japanese collector of Gehrig memorabilia have not been confirmed.

Josh Evans from Lelands Auctions echoed the sentiments of many we interviewed saying, “I doubted that Penny Marshall story, she’s not a $400,000 person.”  Evans and other auction house heads like Doug Allen of LegendaryDavid Hunt of Hunt Auctions and Troy Kinunen of MEARS all indicated they had no idea who the buyer of the alleged Gehrig glove at Sotheby’s was.

Sotheby's lead consultant for the 1999 Halper Auction, Rob Lifson, knows who the "unluckiest collector" is, but he isn't talking.

The two people who do know the identity of the ”unluckiest collector on the face of the earth” are the individuals responsible for the sale at Sotheby’s in 1999.  Marsha Malinowski was the Sotheby’s head employee overseeing the sale and Halper associate, Rob Lifson, of Robert Edward Auctions (REA), was Sotheby’s hand-picked consultant in charge of the sale.  However, both Malinowski and Lifson aren’t talking, as both did not respond to inquiries about the glove and the identity of the winning bidder. 

Since the sale in 1999, Lifson has taken credit for creating the entire Sotheby’s catalogue.  In 2004 Lifson told David Lee of Beckett Sports Collectibles Magazine, “As far as what REA did, I personally wrote the entire catalogue (over 1,000 pages), decided what was going to be in the auction and how it was going to be presented.”  Lifson added that he also. “Chose all illustrations, oversaw the layout of the catalogue, chose the authenticators, took care of all matters related to research, did all the grading and personally set all estimates and reserves.”

We asked Lifson what research he conducted related to the misrepresented Gehrig glove and how he claimed in the Sotheby’s description that it was, “the actual glove used by Lou Gehrig in his final game on April 30, 1939.”

We also asked Lifson if he’d contacted the winning bidder regarding the authenticity issues and inquired as to why the Sotheby’s description did not reference the conflicting Dahlgren acquisition story that appeared in both The Sporting News, in 1979, and Sports Illustrated, in 1990.

Lifson did not respond to inquiries for comment.

This is by no means Sotheby’s first experience with bogus Halper baseball gloves. A Cy Young glove that sold for over $70,000 in the 1999 sale was returned because it was found to be a child’s model glove.  Halper said that glove came from the “Cy Young’s Estate.”  The NY Daily News also reported in 2003 that the Mickey Mantle glove sold to actor Billy Crystal (for $239,000) as the “Mick’s”  from”circa 1960″ was misrepresented as well.  The DailyNews’ Michael O’Keeffe reported that glove collector and enthusiast Denny Eskin claimed that, “Most likely, the glove was used in 1966.”  The News also reported that Rawling’s glove designer Bob Clevenhagen told Crystal that his glove was, “Made no earlier than 1964 and most likely used in 1966.”

In 2005, the Daily News reported about another one of Halper’s problematic gloves, a Joe DiMaggio model alleged to be from early in his career.  Again, Denny Eskin claimed that the glove was not manufactured until 1954, three years after DiMaggio retired.

When confronted with this information, Rob Lifson, Sotheby’s lead consultant for the sale, pointed the finger at Dave Bushing who he claims he hired to authenticate gloves and other equipment for the 1999 Halper auction.

Bushing and his colleague Dan Knoll disputed Lifson’s claim in Sports Collectors Digest stating, “No letters came from us on Barry Halper gloves.  We’re listed in the front of the catalogue as doing hats and bats.”

The Daily News reported that Lifson ”insisted that Bushing authenticated  all of the gloves in the Halper auction.  Bushing was not credited for examining gloves in the catalogue…because the huge auction, it had more than 2,400 lots, included only a handful of gloves.”

In an interview yesterday Bushing confirmed his prior statements about not authenticating gloves for the Halper auction.  Said Bushing, “If we had done gloves (it) would have been listed as such and they would have had a detailed opinion.”  “Attribution of authentication in a catalogue is a fact, a fact that confirms that we did not do (authenticate) the gloves,” Bushing continued.  As for Gehrig’s alleged “last glove” Bushing stated emphatically, “I never studied the glove nor the provenance.”

Josh Evans, of Lelands, sums up the Sotheby’s “last glove” fiasco best.  Said Evans, “The Halper auction was soft on authentication.”

The ”unluckiest collector on the face of the earth” who purchased Halper’s “last Gehrig glove” has learned that the hard way.